Three years ago today, I was a proper smug bastard.
Social media reminded me this morning that on this very day in 2014, I was looking at the truly awesome sight that is Machu Picchu, in the flesh. That mandatory photo popped up on my timeline: me grinning to camera above the site with Huayna Picchu towering majestically over me in the distance, kissed with mist like something from Last of the Mohicans.
I had wanted to go to South America for about ten years. I mentioned in my first post how I have always felt a spectator on fun and this was definitely one example where, as the years went by and the dream failed to materialise, I stopped thinking it would ever be me.
When the captain announced we were landing in Lima airport, Peru – I cried. I can’t even describe that feeling. It was the same feeling I felt on the train up towards Machu Picchu, watching the Inca sites etched into the hillsides as we wound through the valley.
“I did it. I did it.” Ten solid years of yearning, of longing, of imagining but not quite believing. But I did it.
I recently had to do some timeline work as part of my psychotherapy (the task of chronologically mapping out your sadness for dissection by another person!). I identified those four months as being the happiest in my life. As well as sharing incredible experiences with the person I love, there was something about the newness and the freedom of everything that was profoundly liberating. Every day we woke up and said “what do we want to achieve today?” and we achieved it. There was not one single day wasted and not one day I would do differently.
I could bore you to tears regaling you with tales of the things we saw in those months: the other-worldy Uyuni salt flats where balletic flamingos danced through lakes of red and emerald green; the glint in a caiman’s eye as we reclined in a river boat in the Amazon basin, where howler monkeys surrounded our cabin each morning in their own, unique jungle dawn chorus; the bustling, vibrant and incredible nocturnal metropolis that is Buenos Aires; kayaking around icebergs and trekking over glaciers where we sipped whiskey with ice from beneath our feet; swimming with sea turtles in a secluded, perfect bay (the fisherman’s secret) off the coast of Brazil; sitting with a beer on the Arpoador as the sun went down on another sunny, perfect day in Rio.
Those memories flash across my mind and I am there; in awe, in wonder, with a heart so full I could burst.
But it wasn’t just the sights we saw, the people we met, the food we tasted. Every day was a goal, every day was something to be accomplished. Every day was a choice.
Clearly, when there are incredible experiences laid out before you like the most wonderful of smorgasbords, this is an easier task. When I wake at the moment, it is invariably raining, dark and my head is pounding with exhaustion. I live in the UK. I currently do a job I don’t enjoy. It isn’t a South American honeymoon.
But what can I learn from it?
Achievable goals spur you on. They can help you create adventure in the every day. They allow you choice.
For the final week my daughter and I spent together before I went back to work, I made a list of places I’d like to go with her each day. I was so conscious of that time slipping by and so when we woke up each morning, it was with a purpose. I don’t know why I’ve stopped living like that. I’m going to make a fresh commitment to ask myself this cheesy but very appropriate question when I start my day:
What is my purpose today?
And I think I’m realising that sometimes it really is OK for that purpose to be time out. As a society we are bombarded with messages and phone calls and alerts and calendar invites and news feeds, all telling us where we could be, should be.
Some days while we were away, we took a day out to amble slowly through cobbled back streets and look at local art in the markets and allowed ourselves time to be and to immerse. We took it in. Sometimes, I carry my daughter in the baby carrier and a flower catches her eye, or the wind on her face delights her so she leans backwards to catch the breeze, laughing. These moments happen when we slow down.
Just because there is somewhere I could be, that does not mean that I should be. If we need to say no to something because we need amble along the cobbles that day, that is OK. That is healthy. That is a good thing.
Which leads me to the other question I intend to ask myself :
What do I really need today?
I am not very good at the latter. I am learning though. I might talk some more about that in my next post.
I don’t quite know where this will take me, but I think…probably nowhere bad. Somewhere better.
And on that note, I promised myself I would read a magazine in the bath tonight so I need to go and do that.
Sleep well. x